The All-Timers #1: Viktor Vaughn & Apani B's "Let Me Watch"

The All-Timers #1: Viktor Vaughn & Apani B's "Let Me Watch"

Today is December 1st, which means it's officially garbage time for music writers. Time to pad those stats, put in the bench players, and maybe eventually drop a year-end list. My version of "bench players" for the newsletter are recurring features, one of which (The Blind Spots) I already introduced last month.

The All-Timers will zoom in on songs that are 10/10, die-on-a-hill material for me, one per feature, aiming to give some granular analysis of the most beloved music nuggets of my life. I keep a running playlist of these, and I'll probably just snap up whatever interests me most at the time, or maybe select based on more time-sensitive reasons. My first pick, Viktor Vaughn and Apani B's "Let Me Watch," is a little bit of both.

A few weeks ago, I spun Vaudeville Villain, the 2003 album that MF DOOM released under his Viktor Vaughn alias. It arrived six months before Madvillainy, the collaborative album with Madlib that remains the rapper's most canonized work, and along with the June 2003 album Take Me to Your Leader (credited to another one of DOOM's aliases, King Geedorah), it's the start of a two-year hot streak during which the elusive masked man cemented himself as an underground legend. I've always ranked the darker Vaudeville Villain just behind the zanier, more smoked-out Madvillainy, and I hadn't heard it in a while, so I threw it on while making dinner. The album also just turned 20 in September, and I didn't think to pitch an anniversary piece. Consider this my retribution.

My pick for favorite track on Vaudeville Villain hasn't changed from the moment I first heard the album some 13 years ago. Buried among 16 other songs that range from eerie to bombastic is "Let Me Watch," one of the most detailed and poignant songs about budding romantic relationships that's ever been put to wax. It's almost out of place on the album, but a turn in its third act reminds us that we're dealing with the same Vaughn whose dastardly exploits define the rest of VV.

DOOM's Viktor Vaughn character is very loosely based on Victor Von Doom, the Marvel supervillain who also partially inspired DOOM's most prominent alias, as well as his decision to wear a mask while performing. One of rap's preeminent non-sequitur devotees also having an overlapping web of alter-egos makes defining the boundaries and storylines of said characters nearly impossible, but for DOOM it was always more about mood—and modularity—than plot. Vaudeville Villain is, for the most part, DOOM in primo shit-talk mode, bringing "the beef like a trucker to Fuddrucker," telling you to "either M-Y-O-B or B-Y-O-stretcher," reminding us that the "cock diesel and still tell a joke like Joe Piscopo."

Various Genius annotators and Redditors have speculated that there's a narrative throughline about Vaughn being a time-traveling mad scientist who gets trapped in modern-day New York and resorts to petty crime to raise funds to repair his time machine, but parsing through his splattery lyrics to get to the core of this idea has always felt like homework. I'm here to hear Viktor the director flip a script like Rob Reiner, the way a lotta dudes analyze his work, their name should be knob-shiner.

The only place DOOM/Vaughn sets aside his fondness for quick quips and pop-culture-laden bromides is "Let Me Watch," arguably the most linear song of his post-KMD career. Trading off short verses, Vaughn and Queens native Apani B (who plays a character named Nikki) trace a short-lived relationship from set-up to flirtation to makeouts to breakup in vivid color. It's in the vein of other male/female rap duets like Prince Paul and Heroine's "The Other Line" or Three 6 Mafia's "Late Nite Tip," but its conversational tone makes it feel more real and lived-in than the rest—ironic, considering its fictitious backdrop.

Initially, we see Vaughn tamping down and slicking back his unrulier aspects, greeting Nikki with a kiss and a "Hey miss, pleasure's all mine, please call me Vik." His suaveness perfectly matches King Honey's languid, sexy beat—skillfully lifted from an obscure 1971 rock track and flipped from 6/8 to 4/4—which again, sounds very out-of-character for DOOM and better suited for Mos Def or Slum Village. Nikki responds so hesitantly as to seem coy, but even from her first verse, it's apparent that she's 1) younger than Vik and 2) already wary of slick-talking men like him: "I love the way you smile, but your eyes look tricky/Yo, I gotta be home by 8:30 or my moms'll kill me."

Vik, on the other hand, falls hard, calling it "love at first sight." From this third verse on, we see the pair's disconnect in intentions: Nikki genuinely wants to get to know Vik; he just wants to get her into bed. Throughout, the writing is pitch-perfect, a rom-com script in miniature. I love the simplicity of Apani's lines "He talked, I listened/He listened, I spoke/We walked arm-in-arm and split a Cherry Coke." Her optimistic naiveté is all the more devastating once Vik starts getting bored, frustrated by endless phone calls while "V ain't even hit it yet/It's uncharacteristic of the vet."

The seductive piano lick cuts out for the breathless rush of Apani's next verse, the peak of her "fantasies of teen love," and then comes the spine-tingling, missed-a-step-on-a-flight-of-stairs moment when the drums drop out for "Got me wonderin' how far I'll go/To prove my moms and everybody wrong." The payoff when the piano comes back in for the line "I miss you every time I hear a love song" is the shit that I live for—it recontextualizes that melody as the love song, and keeps what is essentially an unchanged six-bar loop throughout the song feeling fresh.

Vik responds to Nikki's heartfelt words with a tossed off "bet" before sloshing his way into the next verse, getting drunker, hornier, and more indiscrete as the song progresses, royally pissing off Nikki in the process. Her headspun lovesickness turns into rage real quick, and Vik's subsequent attempts to smooth things over only dig him a bigger hole.

Anyway, it all culminates in a masterful kiss-off from Nikki—"It's over, I'm gone, so long/I'd rather masturbate than fuck with Vik Vaughn"—and a laughably pathetic final ploy from Vik: "Let me watch!" This levels the perception of the white-coated crime mastermind we get for the rest of the album, unmasking his weaknesses of hubris and an overplayed tough exterior. It even foreshadows Vaughn's one appearance on Madvillainy (didn't I tell you that DOOM's overlapping alter egos get confusing?), in which he spends an entire song getting mad at DOOM for stealing his girl.

Only DOOM truly knew the calculus of the interior world(s) of his music—in my mind, there's a 50/50 chance that it was either obsessively organized or completely off-the-dome cluttered, and no in between. His singular knottiness is what made him an endlessly compelling artist, the kind whose lyrics you could devote a lifetime to analyzing for references to his actual life, his other personas, and pop culture detritus. "Let Me Watch" is the rare moment in his discography that functions outside of this mythology.

When I first heard "Accordion" and "Meat Grinder" off of Madvillainy, I had to know more—this guy couldn't just exist in the floating context of these two hookless hodepodges of the densest lyricism I'd ever heard—but you could slot "Let Me Watch" on a playlist of similarly jazzy left-of-center rap and people who'd never heard DOOM before wouldn't feel out of their depth. I'm not trying to play the part of a streaming service's playlist curator and suggest that this is DOOM's best song because it integrates more seamlessly into an existing box than the rest of his music. I've just always been fascinated by the world's most inscrutable rapper (non Kool Keith division) dropping the act for a minute (but not really) and delivering a plot-oriented love story the likes of which I've never heard on another record. Chalk this up as the one millionth testament to DOOM's genius.

Plug 2

Along with the Vaudeville Villain 20th anniversary, I also dropped the ball on pitching a review of Full Of Hell and Nothing's fantastic collaborative album, When No Birds Sang, which is out today. Thankfully, Stereogum's Danielle Chelosky did it more justice than I could ever have hoped to. Her review not only nails why the album is "as colossal and evocative as Deafheaven’s Sunbather while also proving there’s more than one way to combine shoegaze and extreme metal," but also traces a fascinating parallel with the infamous 9/11 photo The Falling Man. (Side note: I caught my second Full Of Hell show a couple of weeks ago and MY GOD does that band rip.)

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #10

It's also the "garbage time" of year for music releases—I'm not getting nearly as many emails as I do from, say, mid-January to mid-November— so expect fewer than my usual 10 songs for the next month and a half.

Bb trickz - "Llorando en la prada"

Genre: emo drill // RIYL: Lil Peep, Pink Pantheress, Ice Spice

Bb trickz is a 23-year-old from the Catalonia region in Spain, and I'm just so into what she's doing right now. She picks these bright, New York drill-style beats and then raps/sings/mutters over them with this hurried-but-blasé tone. She got a co-sign from Veeze, a rapper I've written about previously on here, for flipping his Law And Order theme-sampling hit, and honestly, he's the best vocal comparison I can make for her too. She's also got this emo side though, and that's what really draws me in. "Llorando en la prada," which closes out her new EP, Sadtrickz, also samples Brian Eno?!

Dissimulator - "Hyperline Underflow"

Genre: technical thrash metal // RIYL: Vektor, a heavier Voivod

Another week, another 20 Buck Spin band. It seems like every other week I feature an artist signed to the Pittsburgh metal stalwart—namely Maul, Gravesend, and Worm—and at risk of becoming a regurgitating mouthpiece of the label, here's their latest offering. Dissimulator are a Montréal band that play sci-fi-themed metal at a blistering pace—I'm pretty sure this would sound like death metal at 33rpm, but at 45, it's thrash. "Hyperline Underflow" is the lead single from their debut album, Lower Form Resistance, out 1/26/24.

Elephant Gym & YILE LIN - "Happy Prince"

Genre: math rock // RIYL: CHON, Covet

Elephant Gym are a Taiwanese three-piece who've been doing it since the early 2010s (2018's twinkly, jazzy Angle is a great starting point for the uninitiated) and in a couple of weeks, they're celebrating their 10th anniversary with a new album. The first tastes of World come in the form of the songs "Ocean in the Night" (an orchestral rework of a 2013 song) and "Happy Prince," both of which feature guest vocalists who add something to the band's already compelling, mostly instrumental sound. "Happy Prince" is delightfully noodle-y without being overindulgent and balances its gentle and heavy sides with aplomb. World is out 12/14.

Friko - "Crashing Through"

Genre: noisy but also pretty but also anthemic post-punk // RIYL: Wolf Parade, PRONOUN

If you've been frantically looking for something that captures the shaggy grandeur of Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary ever since 2005 and keep coming up empty, allow this Friko song to offer you a glimmer of hope. This young-ish (basing this purely on their Bandcamp photo) Chicago duo have obviously apparent chemistry, and manage to make a ton of noise all by their lonesomes (well, plus some overdubs). Vocalist Niko Kapetan may have a ton of Spencer Krug in his high-register yelps, but Friko have a more spartan, quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that also aligns them with post-punk. Their upcoming album Where we've been, Where we go from here is out 2/16/24.

Nailah Hunter - "Strange Delights"

Genre: art pop // RIYL: SPELLLING, Kate Bush

Nailah Hunter is an LA-based vocalist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist (with a background in harp) who I probably should've been listening to for much longer than I have, which is just this week. In just four years she's racked up quite the discography, and her upcoming album Lovegaze will be her first on Fat Possum Records. Opening track "Strange Delights" is more floaty and quicksilver than the comparatively beat-driven lead single, "Finding Mirrors," and it serves as an entrancing intro to the album, beckoning us inward with its swirls of synths. Lovegaze is out 1/19/24.

OMB Peezy Feat. Peezy - "Never Change"

Genre: melodic rap // RIYL: NoCap, 03 Greedo

No, that's not a typo! You're witnessing something unprecedented here: the meeting of Sacramento-via-Mobile rapper OMB Peezy and Detroit's Peezy, the latter of whom I've featured on here before. It's an interesting combo—OMB's more upbeat, singsong-y style may seem at odds with Peezy's sullen drawl, but over a buoyant beat that has a bit of the '80s coke white sheen of Billy Ocean's "Love Zone" to it, they sound great together. This one's from OMB Peezy's Le'Paris, out today.

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson